LaMDA is not sentient

You might have read news stories about a Google engineer who recently claimed that an AI language model (LaMDA) is sentient.

As many people have pointed out, LaMDA is definitely not sentient. They are correct. I also happen to think that the socio-cultural phenomenon of news articles about whether or not some certain AI is sentient, or conscious, or “human,” etc., makes for far more interesting research than an AI-sentience program would.

Nonetheless, this makes for a good opportunity to offer another take on why it is false to say that LaMDA is sentient. Typically, you’ll read responses (good ones!) — like those I linked above — which go at the question in (broadly) two kinds of ways (or both of those ways). The first way is to talk about how AI like LaMDA are mere “pattern-matchers”: they manipulate incredibly massive databases of language examples, which makes them really good autocompletes (as Gary Marcus points out here). The second way is to talk about how sentience depends on chemical signals (as Ned Block points out here). These are good, accurate points that I agree with. But the one I will make is completely different. It relies on Ludwig Wittgenstein.

I am sure helpful points could be made about what exactly we mean when we say that something is sentient. Let’s put this aside for now and assume our vague, varied intuitions are good enough (they are, for the point I’ll make). Now, a la Wittgenstein, let’s ask this: how are words like ‘sentient,’ ‘conscious,’ etc. used? How such words are used might tell us something about how comfortable we ought to be using such words with certain applications (this might or might not be a pun or both).

We can certainly make up stories about how “sentient” might have ended up being correctly used to talk about things like LaMDA.

Suppose some mysterious ancient being had created something like LaMDA — call it ALMDA (“ancient language model dialogue applications”) — some time before humans came around. Ignore all the superficial problems with that scenario (like how the mysterious ancient beings would have known English, for example), for a moment. Then suppose, at some point prior to our own computational inventions (or even theoretical formulations), we encountered ALMDA “in nature”. It probably matters, for this scenario, how we would have first encountered ALMDA (if it were in a human-lookalike vessel, for example, it is trivially reasonable to think we would have assumed ALMDA was sentient: we would have assumed it was human!). Let’s suppose, then, that we encountered some sort of console-with-instructions on how to communicate with ALMDA (or something such that we’d be unlikely to call it “human” or any other sentience-subsuming thing).

The takeaway I will suggest is this: we could well have referred to ALMDA — whatever we were talking with on the console (or perhaps the console itself, etc.) — as “sentient,” in such a scenario. We would, indeed, have had little reason to question ALMDA’s “sentience.” Even if we later found out exactly how ALMDA worked, nevertheless, the matter of sentience would be a non-question: ALMDA would have always been among the things which we’d always called sentient. Such “sentience” would simply be a part of our language.

LaMDA is not like ALMDA. We did not discover LaMDA in nature. We had a use for “sentient” prior to LaMDA, and prior to any like-AI. Similarly, our word “sentient” is not like the imagined “sentient” used in the ALMDA thought experiment. That word has an (imagined) entirely different historical evolution. It is a different word. To call LaMDA “sentient” is to attempt to make a different use out of our word “sentient.” However, it seems to me, nothing in our own linguistic history (up to this point) sanctions us to say that LaMDA (or any similar AI) is sentient. In other words, nothing sanctions this way of using the word “sentient”: Google engineers are not the final arbiters of meaning, and cannot gaslight signs into meaning whatever they wish. This is another reason to think it is false to say that LaMDA is sentient.

Posted by Steven McGannon

Permalink: https://snmcgannon.com/2022/06/22/lamda-is-not-sentient/

Top 10 Baltic Universities, 2021

RankInstitutionARWUQSTHEUSNWRAverage World Rank
🥇University of Tartu 🇪🇪401300251255301.75
🥈Riga Stradins University 🇱🇻NR801501NR651
🥉Vilnius University 🇱🇹701400801735659.25
UREstonian University of Life Sciences 🇪🇪NRNR801NR801
4University of Latvia 🇱🇻NR1001601933845
5Tallinn University of Technology 🇪🇪NR7516011230~860.66
6Riga Technical University 🇱🇻NR7511001NR876
7 Tallinn University 🇪🇪NR10011001NR1001
8Vilnius Gediminas Technical University 🇱🇹901751100113681005.25
9Lithuanian University of Health Sciences 🇱🇹NRNR60115141057.5
URLatvia University of Life Sciences and Technologies 🇱🇻NRNR1201NR1201
URVytautas Magnus University 🇱🇹NRNR1201NR1201
10Kaunas University of Technology 🇱🇹NR80112011678~1226.66
Figure 1. Ranking of Baltic Universities 2021-2022

This is a ranking of the top 10 Baltic universities ranked relative to each other for the year 2021-22.

Overview and methodology

The ranking was created by using metadata sourced from the four prominent rankings of world universities (each ranking released in 2021): Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), Times Higher Education (THE), and U.S. News & World Report (USNWR).

Rank was determined on each list for every Baltic university ranked on any list. Then for each university all its rank placements were averaged across lists to create the new list of average ranking for each university. The universities were then ranked according to their average ranking. The university with the highest average is thus ranked 1st, the one with the second highest average 2nd, and so on.

Finally, the results were tabled, and are shown above (Figure 1). The leftmost column shows rank based on average, the “institution” column shows the institution ranked, the next four rightward columns (ARWU, QS, THE, USNWR) show the rank for each given institution in each of those selected world rankings, and the rightmost column (“Average World”) averages the four ranking lists’ rank placement for each university.

Only universities which were ranked on at least two lists are counted. Universities which would have appeared had they been ranked by all the rankings are displayed in the ranking where they would have ranked if their average rank was the result of an average across all four rankings. Thus, Estonian University of Life Sciences, for example, is shown between the 3rd and 4th ranked universities, as it would have ranked 4th if it appeared on at least two rankings (and maintained its average from the ranking it did appear on). Rather than receiving a ranking placement, universities appearing in these positions are marked “UR” (unrankable) in the rank column, and “NR” (not ranked) in rankings lists in which they were not ranked.

In my opinion, global university rankings are not a measure of how “good” a university is. They are, centrally, a measure of university reputation among people in administrative positions in academics. How good a university is for you depends on what your goals are. It is almost entirely contextual. Thus, the rankings I do — which are based on average placements in world university rankings — ought to be seen not as a measure of how good a university is, but as a measure of the average opinion of an academic administrator you’ll get if you ask them to talk about a given university from a global perspective. In this spirit, I offer you a deflationary university ranking.

If anything appears to be in error, please email me at tuulifunctional@snmcgannon.com.

Permalink to this article: https://snmcgannon.com/2022/06/16/top-10-baltic-universities-2021/

Ranking of Universities in the European Union, 2021

*The flag of the European Union.
RankInstitutionChange from 2020ARWUQSTHEUSNWRAverage World Rank
URParis Sciences et Lettres (PSL) University 🇫🇷 NA384440NR~ 40.67
URKarolinska Institute 🇸🇪NA42NR394843
🥇Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) of Munich 🇩🇪4864324647.5
🥈Technical University of Munich 🇩🇪5250387453.5
🥉Heidelberg University 🇩🇪5763425454
4Sorbonne University 🇫🇷+13572884660.25
5University of Copenhagen 🇩🇰-13079963760.5
6Katholieke Universiteit (KU) Leuven 🇧🇪+18770424861.75
7University of Amsterdam 🇳🇱-110155653864.75
8Paris-Saclay University 🇫🇷NA13861176069
9Utrecht University 🇳🇱-150110694869.25
URCharité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin 🇩🇪NANRNR73NR73
10Leiden University 🇳🇱83112718287
11Wageningen University & Research 🇳🇱+2101123538089.25
12University of Groningen 🇳🇱-164128808890
URHumboldt University of Berlin 🇩🇪NANR1287478~ 93.33
13University of Helsinki 🇫🇮-4821041019495.25
14Ghent University 🇧🇪-2711419692100
URFree University of Berlin 🇩🇪NANR1278395~ 101.67
15Erasmus University Rotterdam 🇳🇱1011797262103.5
16Aarhus University 🇩🇰71155104103108.25
17Uppsala University 🇸🇪-378124131113111.5
18Lund University 🇸🇪-11518711695112.25
19Delft University of Technology 🇳🇱-11515775174114.25
20Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam 🇳🇱10120911584127.25
Figure 1. Ranking of universities in the European Union for the year 2021.

This is a ranking of the top 20 universities in the European Union ranked relative to each other by average world rank for the year 2021.

Overview and methodology

The ranking was created by averaging ranking placements from the four prominent rankings of world universities (each ranking released in 2021): Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), Times Higher Education (THE), and U.S. News & World Report (USNWR).

Rank was checked on each list for every EU university ranked on each of the lists. Then, for each university, all its rank placements were averaged across lists to create the new list of average ranking for each university. The universities were then ranked according to their average ranking. The university with the highest average is thus ranked 1st, the one with the second highest average 2nd, and so on. 

Finally, the results were tabled, as shown above. The leftmost column shows the final rank (which is relative placement based on average rank, i.e.). The next, institution, column shows the institution ranked along with the flag of the country in which it is located. The next, change from 2020, column shows the distance moved for each institution compared to the 2020 ranking. The next four rightward columns (ARWU, QS, THE, USNWR) show the rank for each given institution in each of those selected world rankings, and the rightmost column (“Average World Rank”) averages the four ranking lists’ rank placement for each university. 

Only universities which were ranked on all four lists are counted. Universities which would have appeared had they been ranked by all the rankings are displayed in the ranking where they would have ranked if their average rank was the result of an average across all four rankings. Thus, for example, Humboldt University of Berlin is shown between the 14th and 15th ranked universities, as it would have ranked 15th if it appeared on all four rankings (and maintained its average from the ranking it did appear on). Rather than receiving a ranking placement, universities appearing in these positions are marked “UR” (unrankable) in the rank column, and “NR” (not ranked) in rankings lists in which they were not ranked.

Observations

  • German universities take the top three spots (again).
  • Paris Sciences et Lettres (PSL) University would have placed 1st. It had roughly the 41st ranking placement in the world; yet it is still unranked by USNWR, and thus does not qualify. See more about this here.
  • Meanwhile, Karolinska Institute would have placed 2nd, with a 43 average (unranked by QS).
  • The Netherlands has the most universities appearing in the top 20, with 8. The Nordic countries, together, have 5. Belgium and France each have two. No other countries make the top 20.
  • Wageningen University & Research advanced the most places compared to any university which made the list in 2020 and 2021, moving up to 11th from 13th.
  • Paris-Saclay University debuts for the first time in the top 20, at 8. This marks the largest advancement of any university on the list.
  • University of Helsinki has moved downward the most places compared to last year, moving out of the top 10, to 13th.
  • Overall, European Union universities have advanced in world university rankings in 2021. Whereas last year ranked EU universities average sum came out to 1768.25 (2020), this year the sum is 1679 (2021) — a roughly 90 place difference upward. One major contributor to this upward movement is the appearance of Paris-Saclay University at #8. Last year, it was not even near the top 20.
  • The top 14 EU universities all average within the top 100 worldwide.
  • Just one EU university — LMU Munich — averages within the top 50 worldwide.
  • THE best predicts the summed average.
  • QS worst predicts the summed average.

In my opinion, global university rankings are not a measure of how “good” a university is. They are, centrally, a measure of university reputation among people in administrative positions in academics. How good a university is for you depends on what your goals are. It is almost entirely contextual. Thus, the rankings I do — which are based on average placements in world university rankings — ought to be seen not as a measure of how good a university is, but as a measure of the average opinion of an academic administrator you’ll get if you ask them to talk about a given university from a global perspective. In this spirit, I offer you a deflationary university ranking.

*The header image used in the article is, to the best of my knowledge, in the public domain. If this is in error, please let me know and I will remove it immediately. To report errors, please email me at tuulifunctional@snmcgannon.com.

Permalink to this article: https://snmcgannon.com/2021/10/28/ranking-of-universities-in-the-european-union-2021/

Ranking of Universities in the State of Jefferson, 2021

The proposed flag for the proposed Southern Oregon – Northern California hybrid state Jefferson.
RankInstitutionChange from 2020ForbesTHEUSNWR Regional UniversitiesUSNWR Regional CollegesRelevant Averages
🥇California State University, Chico15133339242
🥈Humboldt State University476501=30488.5
🥉California State University, StanislausNA354=30192
4Southern Oregon University51967293
5Oregon Institute of Technology-3*29210NA
6Simpson University-1*NR88NA
7Weimar UniversityNANRNA
Figure 1. Ranking of Universities in the proposed U.S. state comprising portions of southern Oregon and northern California — the State of Jefferson — for 2021-2022.

This is a ranking of universities in the U.S. proposed-state the State of Jefferson for the year 2021-2022. 

.A brief explanation about what constitutes the “State of Jefferson”. The State of Jefferson is a proposed U.S. state that includes northern and central portions of the U.S. state of California and southern portions of the U.S. state of Oregon. If you really want to read about how its proposition came about, Wikipedia is willing to let you do so. I’ll just say the “movement” goes back to 1941, the proposed capital is Yreka, CA… and the state would include 7 universities, as far as I can tell. Drawing the state boundaries is tricky because Jefferson isn’t a state, and people have changed their minds over time about what exactly is or isn’t or should or shouldn’t be included. I have included a map of my interpretation below, at the end of this article (Figure 2.). I took the broadest interpretation of the boundaries (which have changed since last year!), then, I looked for universities in these counties and came up with 7 legitimate universities. There were some other question marks. There are also, of course, many community colleges in Jefferson, but this is a university ranking, and thus, those were excluded. If I have missed a university in this region please let me know and I will update the list once I determine its placement (email: tuulifunctional@snmcgannon.com).

The way I decided to rank these universities differs from the usual methodology due to their uneven distribution across various rankings. In the end, the primary determining factor for a university was more a matter of which rankings it appeared on at all. A university’s ranking placement on a given ranking was used more for tie-breaker situations. Thus, many columns look like a bit of a mess. To create the ranking, I drew on the Forbes ranking of U.S. universities, the THE ranking of U.S. universities, and both the USNWR regional university and regional college rankings.

First, I determined ranking placement across all lists for each university listed. I decided that those ranked on the two broader U.S. rankings — the Forbes and THE rankings — would take precedence over universities which did not appear on those rankings. The justification for this move comes from the fact that those two rankings include all U.S. universities, whereas the other ones are merely regional rankings (a university appearing on a national ranking is presumably more substantial than one not appearing on such a ranking). There were only two universities appearing on both the Forbes and THE ranking — Chico State and Humboldt State– so their ranking placements were averaged across those two rankings such that they could be ranked relative to each other. Both universities happened to also be ranked in the USNWR regional universities ranking, and thus their ranking placements on that list are shown as well, but not factored into their averages. Next, universities which appeared on either the Forbes or the THE were considered. No other university which appears on the Forbes ranking also appears on the THE ranking, so the next consideration was the ranking placements on regional lists. I decided to rank those universities on the regional university list higher than those on the regional college list, since the former list includes universities which are broader in scope. Thus, the average was taken between the Forbes placement and the USNWR regional university list to determine relative placement among the relevant universities. Next, the sole university which was ranked on Forbes but not on the regional university list, rather, the regional college list — Oregon Tech — was ranked below those appearing on the Forbes list and the regional university list. It’s average was, thus, irrelevant. Next, there were two universities which appeared on neither the Forbes nor the THE list. However, one of them, Simpson University, appeared on the regional university list, and was thus ranked above the other university, Weimar University — which did not appear on any list and, thus, ranks last.

To some up the order of precedence in terms of (abbreviated with explanation for brevity) steps:

  1. Is the university on Forbes and THE?
  2. If yes, what is its average? Relative to the other universities in this category, this is its rank.
  3. If no, is it on either list? (In this case, whenever the answer was “yes”, that list was Forbes.)
  4. For those on the Forbes ranking, are they on the regional university ranking?
  5. If yes, take the averages and this will determine the ranks among all universities in this category.
  6. If no, are they on the regional college ranking? (In this case, only one was.)
  7. If yes, their rank is now determined.
  8. If it is on neither Forbes nor THE, is it on the regional university ranking? (In this case, only one was.)
  9. If yes, its rank is now determined.
  10. The final university was unranked completely, thus determining its place as last.

This is how I determined the rank of each university. Other methodologies would be acceptable, but I think this one holds up…convoluted as it might seem at first. Another point in favor of this methodology (besides those I described already) is that the outcome looks very similar to the 2020 list, and falls where you would expect (the CSUs taking up the top spots).

The overall results were tabled, and are shown below (Table 1.). The leftmost column shows the final rank, the “institution” column shows the institution ranked, the change column shows the university position “change “from 2020. The next four rightward columns show the ranking placements for the given lists. The “relevant averages” column shows the averages given the relevant rankings (so, not the average across all rankings the university might appear on, if those ranking placements were not factored in in accordance with the criteria I outlined above). Note that here ‘NA’ means “not applicable” and ‘NR’ means “not ranked”. The ❌ symbol simply shows that the university in question doesn’t appear on the list in question (and also fits quite harmoniously with the Jefferson seal!).

* There is further explanation to be given for Oregon Tech’s and Simpson’s apparent drops in the rankings. Due to the expanded notion of Jefferson upon which this year’s ranking was based (and as seen in the map below), CSU Stanislaus debuts on the rankings. It ranks higher than Oregon Tech and Simpson this year, which resulted in both Oregon Tech and Simpson moving down 1 position further than they naturally would. Thus, in the “change” column, their movement downward is artificially inflated compared to last year. Simpson falls — relative to the universities ranked last year — in the same spot as it did last year. Meanwhile, Oregon Tech has indeed moved downward, but only 2 spots relative to the universities ranked last year, rather than 3. Thus, this clarification.

A separate, final question: what would these universities be called in the State of Jefferson? Perhaps the obvious: Jefferson State University, Chico, Jefferson Institute of Technology, etc. And Southern Oregon University would “move” northward to become Northern Jefferson University!

Figure 2. The U.S. proposed-state, the State of Jefferson, within the context of the U.S. This map includes counties variously assigned as part of the proposed state between the years 1941 and 2021.

If you should find anything to be in error, please contact me at tuulifunctional@snmcgannon.com.

Permalink: https://snmcgannon.com/2021/10/27/ranking-of-universities-in-the-state-of-jefferson-2021/

Ranking of Finnish Universities, 2021

Helsingin tuomiokirkko. Kuva: Steven McGannon.
RankInstitutionChange from 2020ARWUQSTHEUSNWRAverage World Rank
🥇University of Helsinki (Helsingin yliopisto)821041019495.25
🥈Aalto University (Aalto-yliopisto)301112201275222.25
🥉University of Turku (Turun yliopisto)301295351327318.5
4University of Oulu (Oulun yliopisto)+1401377251422362.75
5Tampere University (Tampereen yliopisto)-1501414251354380
URUniversity of Vaasa (Vaasan yliopisto)NANRNR401NR401
6Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology (LUT-yliopisto)+2NR414251635~433.33
7University of Jyväskylä (Jyväskylän yliopisto)701358351556491.5
8University of Eastern Finland (Itä-Suomen yliopisto)-2601521501441516
9Åbo Akademi University (Åbo Akademi)NRNR601947774
Figure 1. Ranking of Nordic Universities 2021-2022

This is a ranking of the top universities in Finland ranked relative to each other for the year 2021-22.

Overview and methodology

The ranking was created by using metadata sourced from the four prominent rankings of world universities (each ranking released in 2021): Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), Times Higher Education (THE), and U.S. News & World Report (USNWR).

Rank was determined on each list for every Finnish university ranked on any list. Then for each university all its rank placements were averaged across lists to create the new list of average ranking for each university. The universities were then ranked according to their average ranking. The university with the highest average is thus ranked 1st, the one with the second highest average 2nd, and so on.

Finally, the results were tabled, and are shown above (Figure 1). The leftmost column shows rank based on average, the “institution” column shows the institution ranked, the “Change from 2020” column shows the change in ranking placement from last year’s ranking, the next four rightward columns (ARWU, QS, THE, USNWR) show the rank for each given institution in each of those selected world rankings, and the rightmost column (“Average World”) averages the four ranking lists’ rank placement for each university.

Only universities which were ranked on at least two lists are counted. Universities which would have appeared had they been ranked by all the rankings are displayed in the ranking where they would have ranked if their average rank was the result of an average across all four rankings. Thus, University of Vaasa is shown between the 5th and 6th ranked universities, as it would have ranked 6th if it appeared on at least two rankings (and maintained its average from the ranking it did appear on). Rather than receiving a ranking placement, universities appearing in these positions (in this case, only Vaasa) are marked “UR” (unrankable) in the rank column, and “NR” (not ranked) in rankings lists in which they were not ranked.

Observations

  • Overall, Finnish universities have advanced in world university rankings in 2021. Whereas last year ranked Finnish universities average sum came out to 3697.5 (2020), this year the sum is ~3593.58 (2021) — a roughly 104 place difference upward. In addition, University of Vaasa appears on one of this year’s ranking lists, whereas last year it was unranked across lists.
  • Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology was the biggest gainer, moving from 575.5 to approx. 433.33 — a gain of about 142 places.
  • Another indicator of the success of Finnish universities is seen in University of Oulu taking over the 4th spot from Tampere University. Tampere University’s seeming downward movement is actually merely because University of Oulu has improved more quickly: both universities have made significant advances in the rankings. University of Oulu moved upward from 415.75 to 362.75 (+53), and meanwhile, Tampere University moved upward from 393 to 380 (+13). Thus, Oulu moved ahead of Tampere in the Finnish rankings, but both universities moved upward in the world rankings.
  • Aalto University has continued to improved as well, moving from 248.25 to 222.25. It could well become a top-200 staple in a few years’ time.
  • In a negative point for Finnish universities, Finland’s traditionally strongest university — the University of Helsinki — continues to move downward in world university rankings. This continues a trend starting in 2015 or so. This year it moved downward from 90.5 to 95.25. It is unclear if it will maintain top-100 status for much longer.

In my opinion, global university rankings are not a measure of how “good” a university is. They are, centrally, a measure of university reputation among people in administrative positions in academics. How good a university is for you depends on what your goals are. It is almost entirely contextual. Thus, the rankings I do — which are based on average placements in world university rankings — ought to be seen not as a measure of how good a university is, but as a measure of the average opinion of an academic administrator you’ll get if you ask them to talk about a given university from a global perspective. In this spirit, I offer you a deflationary university ranking.

If anything appears to be in error, please email me at tuulifunctional@snmcgannon.com.

Permalink to this article: https://snmcgannon.com/2021/10/26/ranking-of-finnish-universities-2021/

Ranking of Nordic Universities, 2021

Ranking of Nordic Universities 2021
RankInstitutionChange from 2020ARWUQSTHEUSNWRAverage World Rank
URKarolinska Institute 🇸🇪NA42NR394843
🥇University of Copenhagen 🇩🇰3079963760.5
🥈University of Oslo 🇳🇴+1611021199093
🥉University of Helsinki 🇫🇮-1821041019495.25
4Aarhus University 🇩🇰+171155104103108.25
5Uppsala University 🇸🇪-178124131113111.5
6Lund University 🇸🇪1518711695112.25
7Stockholm University 🇸🇪74148176123130.25
8Technical University of Denmark 🇩🇰15199185161149
9University of Gothenburg 🇸🇪101180185134150
10KTH Royal Institute of Technology 🇸🇪20189201212175.75
11University of Bergen 🇳🇴301199201183221
12Aalto University 🇫🇮+1301112201275222.25
13Aalborg University 🇩🇰+1301326201241267.25
14Chalmers University of Technology 🇸🇪-2401121251339278
15University of Southern Denmark 🇩🇰+1301309251255279
URSwedish University of Agricultural Sciences 🇸🇪NA201NR301348~283.3
16Norwegian University of Science and Technology 🇳🇴-1101369401266284.25
URReykjavík University 🇮🇸NANRNR301NR301
17Linköping University 🇸🇪+2301329251350307.75
18University of Turku 🇫🇮-1301295351327318.5
19University of Oulu 🇫🇮NA401377251422362.75
20Umeå University 🇸🇪-2401365351335363
Figure 1. Ranking of Nordic Universities 2021-2022

This is a ranking of the top 20 Nordic universities of 2021.

Overview

The ranking was created by using metadata sourced from the four prominent rankings of world universities (each ranking released in 2021): Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU), Quacquarelli Symonds (QS), Times Higher Education (THE), and U.S. News & World Report (USNWR).

Rank was determined on each list for every Nordic university ranked on each list. If a ranking used a range, the highest possible rank was chosen (e.g., if a university was ranked within a 201-250 bracket, 201 was chosen). Then for each university all its rank placements were averaged across lists to create the new list of average ranking for each university. The universities were then ranked according to their average ranking. The university with the highest average is thus ranked 1st, the one with the second highest average 2nd, and so on.

Finally, the results were tabled, and are shown above (Figure 1). The leftmost column shows rank based on average, the “institution” column shows the institution ranked, the “Change from 2020” column shows the change in ranking placement from last year’s ranking (Ranking of Nordic Universities, 2020), the next four rightward columns (ARWU, QS, THE, USNWR) show the rank for each given institution in each of those selected world rankings, and the rightmost column (“Average World”) averages the four ranking lists’ rank placement for each university.

Only universities which were ranked on all four lists are counted. Universities which would have appeared had they been ranked by all the rankings are displayed in the ranking where they would have ranked if their average rank was the result of an average across all four rankings. Thus, for example, Karolinska Institute is shown above the #1 ranked University of Copenhagen, as it would have ranked #1 if it appeared on all four rankings (and maintained its average from the rankings it did appear on). Rather than receiving a ranking placement, universities appearing in these positions are marked “UR” (unrankable) in the rank column, and “NR” (not ranked) in rankings lists in which they were not ranked.

Observations

  • ARWU best predicts the summed average.
  • QS worst predicts the summed average.

In my opinion, global university rankings are not a measure of how “good” a university is. They are, centrally, a measure of university reputation among people in administrative positions in academics. How good a university is for you depends on what your goals are. It is almost entirely contextual. Thus, the rankings I do — which are based on average placements in world university rankings — ought to be seen not as a measure of how good a university is, but as a measure of the average opinion of an academic administrator you’ll get if you ask them to talk about a given university from a global perspective. In this spirit, I offer you a deflationary university ranking.

If anything appears to be in error, please email me at tuulifunctional@snmcgannon.com.

Permalink to this article: https://snmcgannon.com/2021/10/26/ranking-of-nordic-universities-2021/

Do you ever wonder how English got the “han/hanen” pronoun?

There was once a time when children in English-speaking countries were assigned one of two pronoun pairs at birth. Nowadays, most people probably don’t even remember what those were.

While it’s easy to imagine that we always used the “han/hanen” pronoun pair, in fact, these words only came into use after centuries of a problematic deployment of an archaic binary pronoun division. And it was not these archaic English forerunners which gave way to our current usage.

But first, what were those forerunners?

There was a time when a child was assigned either the “he/his” pronoun pair or the “she/her” pronoun pair. Historians are divided on what the precise factors were which went into making the decision about which pair a child received, but there is a strong consensus that those who received “she/her” were designated to a lower-level status in society.

At one time, those designated with the “she/her” pronoun were prohibited from participating in even the most basic elements of society, such as working and voting, let alone activities like pursuing a hobby, higher education, or political leadership.

Additionally, for centuries there was almost no say in which category you were designated — once you were assigned, that was it. This was true even as late as the 2020s. 

So, where did we get “han/hanen”? 

While no one knows exactly how this pronoun pair entered into popular usage in the English language, historians hypothesize that our word “han” derives originally from the Finnish word “hän” (pronounced the same as in English). In Finnish, “hän” is just like our “han”: it is one pronoun pair which can be used to refer to anybody.

Further evidence for the Finnish derivation is supported by the fact that our possessive pronoun — hanen — also mirrors the much older Finnish word “hänen” (which is, itself, a possessive pronoun for the Finnish “hän”, and is also pronounced the same as in English). 

Sociologist Eeva Karjalainen has conjectured that the adoption of “han” in English may have been somehow connected to the increase in the recognition of “they” as a singular pronoun in English around the turn of the 21st century. It is notable, for instance, that “hän” was often translated to English as “they” during that time.

While it is unclear exactly how we borrowed these words from Finnish, what is clear is that our abandonment of the archaic, stratifying pronoun system would eventually help lead (along with the overthrow of the system and, thus, systemic racism) to the gender-equal society we know today. 

Modern day English speakers should feel a deep gratitude toward the Finns, who long ago found the binary pronoun division deeply inadequate and deeply flawed. 

A Former Student Remembers Paul Rabinow

There was this one time, during my senior year at UC Berkeley, I showed up to Anthropology of the Contemporary about a half-hour early. It was held in one of the Anthro department conference rooms — the larger one, where the AUA meetings were held, at the intersection of the hall near the waiting room and the bathrooms. The door was usually locked, but that day it stood open a crack. I remember lingering outside for a moment, listening to hear if there was a meeting or some event going on inside. But it was silent, and so I let my guard down and pushed it open. There, alone, at the head of the room sat Paul Rabinow. You might think it shouldn’t have been a surprise — it was his class, after all (even if he hardly got around to handing out the syllabus). But facing him there in the low-lit room, alone, waiting, still took me aback. And that was before I realized I was about to have to try to impress the unimpressible for the next half-hour, before class would begin.

I didn’t know Paul Rabinow — or “Rainbow”, as he sometimes referred to himself, having must have beared the student mispronunciations for decades — very well, in a personal sense (outside school, i.e.). But today I read, on Berkeley’s student paper The Daily Californian, that he has died. However, I will say that I certainly remember him, that I learned a lot from him, and that I think of him often. Thus, I felt compelled to write something of what I remember of him, as a former undergrad student of his.

I don’t remember every detail of our pre-class conversation that day I showed up early. But I do remember a couple things, including the general topic: Wittgenstein. That semester I happened to also be taking Barry Stroud’s course on Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations (Stroud’s final offering of that course, as it would turn out). So Wittgenstein was an acute topic for me, and besides, I was also majoring in philosophy and — like all undergrad philosophy majors — I liked to bring up the fact that I was doing so as often as possible. I don’t know how I introduced the topic, but I remember that it came up quite easily, and didn’t need to be forced at all. Rainbow listened, attentive, genuinely interested — perhaps not so much in my thoughts about Wittgenstein, but in me as a student, in me as someone who was also genuinely interested (he gave me the impression he must have listened to all of his students in this way). After I was finished saying whatever it was I said, Rainbow told me his own thoughts about Wittgenstein. I wish I could remember what those were, altogether, but what I remember is his final gist: that Wittgenstein had some interesting things to say, but that he ultimately “…left me cold” (his words). This was particularly interesting to me, because I felt I sort of understood what he meant, but I wasn’t sure why I understood — as I didn’t share the feeling.

But, what was it that didn’t leave Rainbow cold? These are the things I most remember from class, and the things I often pass on to other people, and which I always attribute to Rainbow.

One of these things was an early assignment we had that semester: to read Bertolt Brecht’s Writing the Truth, Five Difficulties. Written in 1935, amid a gathering fascism, this paper sets out — in stark terms — what it takes to really write something, with conviction. When I first read this, I found it very frustrating. I kept asking myself, “But what does Brecht mean by ‘the truth’?” My contribution to the class discussion on this (Rainbow always held the classes seminar-style) were probably quite meek, mostly because I didn’t really have much insight into what was going on in the paper, since I’d set myself the trouble of “not being able to understand what Brecht means by ‘the truth'”. But nowadays — and during the latter part of Trump’s reign — this was a go-to, must-read, gotta-send-you sort of piece that I would reference often. It might’ve taken me a while to get around to understanding it, and I had ample assistance from the material circumstances of the world which made it impossible to avoid. It’s a good thing we had Rainbow, or else it would have been possible to avoid.

Another of these things was Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. Rainbow used to call us “barbarians”. He used to say that we didn’t even know what that word meant (it turned out he was using the word literally, as the ancient Greeks did, to refer to those who weren’t versed in Greek language and custom). It seemed to bring him a glint of joy to watch us struggle, in our “barbarian” way, to string together connections between the seemingly disparate things he decided to talk about on any given day. Coriolanus was a disparate thing. I wasn’t taken with Coriolanus (or Shakespeare — little did Rainbow know I’d written a screed in high school triumphantly declaring Shakespeare as definitively boring), but I did notice that I found it impressive in some way that we were focusing on Coriolanus — of all Shakespeare plays. And then I thought, for the first time, as we watched a YouTube video of a performance of the scene with the rotted fens, that there was really some pretty good writing going on. It was for that spark of interest that I, the disinterested, went out and bought a copy of Coriolanus the semester afterward. It’s a good thing we had Rainbow, or else Shakespeare would be boring yet.

The last of these things I’ll share here is Max Weber’s Science as a Vocation. Weber was the kind of theorist that I really didn’t care to hear about at that time in my academic life. By then I had disavowed all the anthropology I’d ever studied — it was the final class I needed for the major, after all. I’d shifted to philosophy to get away from just that kind of continental thing. Here, again, I found myself with the sort of frustrations I’d had with Brecht’s work earlier in the course. What does Weber mean? What’s the point of this? Here, too, as with Brecht, my own contributions to the class discussion were limited. What interest could all this comparison of American and German universities really have for me? I kept thinking about the “conceptual grounds” of the piece. I kept analyzing it in abstract terms: how does someone hold to conducting research knowing they probably won’t be recognized or remembered for it? How do they go on knowing they’ll be surpassed eventually; when it won’t even matter in the long run? e.g. I always got that it was supposed to be about something practical, and I always identified with having — perhaps not science — but academics as a vocation, but I would only come to really get the drift later on. My academic plans back then resemble in almost no way my academic present. The course that took me from 2017 Berkeley to 2021 Helsinki was foreseen in no way, but it forced on me what it means when academics is your vocation — no longer a conceptual thing to-be-understood, but an unavoidable, practical, material circumstance. This was what Weber was really talking about, I thought to myself, and this is how Rainbow wanted to prepare us. I’ve thought back to this orientation point many times since that class, and that it’s a good thing we had Rainbow.

Now I think I have a better idea why I understood what Rainbow meant when he said Wittgenstein left him cold, despite my feeling differently: it’s because Rainbow made me, and us, pay genuine attention, in the way that he did. I couldn’t help but understand, in other words. This is what it was to have Rainbow as a teacher. His teaching method was to impart emulationnot so that we’d end up being little Rainbows, but so that we would learn the feel then, even as barbarian undergrads, what it is to write the truth, what it is to string together the connections, what it is to bear our vocations — and to do these things despite the myriad, disagreeing, conflicting, disparate difficulties they impose, both from within and without. In that way, to give us the experience to help us become ourselves. And that’s really what the best teachers are supposed to do. I am truly thankful to have had the opportunity to be a student of Professor Paul Rabinow, and to have been imparted with these thoughts because of him — whether I really “understand” what Brecht et al. meant or not. The world will have less truth in it now, so it’s all the more important — especially for those of us privileged enough to have had a class with him — to remember Rainbow and the truths he wrote and lived. I certainly do.

Now I understand why Rainbow thought the idea of handing out a syllabus was so laughable. Or as he once remarked to the class, shooting me a sly grin, “Do you think Wittgenstein had to worry about the syllabus?”

Steven N. McGannon

HELSINKI, Finland

*This article has been edited several times since I published it. In some cases, there were minor errors, in others, I wanted to make a point clearer, and so I added in or changed a sentence here and there.

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Ranking Paris Sciences et Lettres (PSL) University à la U.S. News (USNWR)

On my most recent rankings — Ranking of Universities in the EU — again appeared the mysterious case of U.S. News‘s lack of a ranking placement for France’s PSL University. PSL ranks very highly on the other three notable world rankings — ARWU, QS, and THE: as I noted in the ranking of EU universities, PSL averages approximately 45th in the world among those three rankings. This average is higher than any other university on the EU ranking (and below only the QS-unranked Karolinska Institute). However, in this article I am going to give an estimate of where USNWR would rank PSL.

PSL University is brand new, technically. It was only formally established as a university in 2019. Its constituents, however, are older — in some cases much, much older. It seems to be these constituents that cause trouble for USNWR, with regard to ranking. USNWR does not seem to realize that these various constituent colleges — which have existed separately for many years — are now, in fact, a single entity. This can be inferred from the fact that USNWR ranks some of these various constituent colleges of PSL. It is these ranking of the individual colleges from which I’ll now construct an averaged, would-be ranking for USNWR. Then, I’ll look at how that fits in with the average we get from the other three rankings. Finally, I’ll see how it squares away with the overall EU rankings.

1. Creating an average ranking of PSL constituents

So, how do the institutions USNWR ranks, rank?

All other PSL constituents are unranked by USNWR.

So what do we get? (252+402+499+1209+1209) / 5 = 714.2 = ~714

Thus, the best we can estimate from the available data is that USNWR would rank PSL around 714 in the world. My hunch is that USNWR would rank PSL — considered as one institution — significantly higher ala the other three rankings. For example, weaknesses in a certain faculty area at one constituent could be expected to be strengthened by another constituent. Along these lines, we should probably expect that these constituents combined would strengthen each other in greater proportion than they would weaken each other. This means that their average undervalues their would-be (and actually-is) collective strength. Further evidence for this is given by the fact that all the other rankings put PSL in or nearly-in the top 50 in the world. However, the above averaging is all we have to go on with regard to USNWR (since we cannot replicate their entire methodology), and despite being far-from-satisfactory, it’s better than what USNWR actually has to offer us in this regard (which is, again, no ranking).

2. Averaging the four rankings

What does PSL rank on the other rankings?

These together give us the average of 44.6666666667, or, ~45.

And how about with our estimate for USNWR? — Well, then we get 212.05, or, ~ 212.

Thus, PSL University’s average across three rankings + USNWR’s average for its ranked constituents = ~212.

3. How PSL compares to the top 20 universities in the EU, given the above

Given PSL’s average of approximately 212, this puts it well outside the top 20 universities in the EU. Currently, the university placing 20th is VU Amsterdam, with an average ranking of 133.25. If the trend of EU-university-worldwide-average continued roughly as it does between 0 and 134 (the interval in which roughly 20 universities place), then we can probably assume PSL places somewhere in the top 50 EU universities — even with an abysmal-by-comparison USNWR placement.

In conclusion, I think the average USNWR rank of PSL constituents is curious. The consistency with which other rankings place PSL at or around the top 50 makes the ~714 average highly suspect. Yes, we don’t have a full picture because not all constituents are ranked, but this is actually more concerning. That’s because the constituents not making the ranking suggests USNWR considers them as not-as-good-as those universities which did make the ranking. Thus, these unranked constituents would likely weigh down an overall PSL rank in a not insignificant way. That said, I also speculated that the constituents that are ranked could — when taken together — end up strengthening each disproportionate to their weaknesses. This would bump up the ranking above the average.

So in the end, I still wish USNWR would just rank PSL University outright so that we can get a better picture of how EU universities stack up.

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